Middle Colorado Agricultural Producers Collaborate to Improve Irrigation Systems

Irrigators Invited to Focus Group September 16th

SEPTEMBER 10, 2020 – The irrigation ditches that convey Colorado River water to ranchers and agricultural producers in the area around Aspen, Glenwood Springs, Rifle and Parachute have been getting a careful review as part of the area’s water management planning process. This summer’s fires in the Middle Colorado River watershed, including the Pine Gulch and Grizzly Creek fires, are bringing the need to plan for long-term stabilization and river rehabilitation to the forefront, as the project launches into a series of shareholder meetings this month and next.

Water users in the Bookcliff, South Side and Mount Sopris conservation districts are identifying locations where projects could boost their water use efficiency and protect agricultural water rights. Planners are asking for the input of irrigators with the goal that the project should lead to improvements that result in less money spent on repairs, less water lost to outdated infrastructure and more water available for irrigators and the river.
Middle Colorado’s Integrated Water Management Planning Advisory Committee has scheduled online focus group reviews to get input from the public on its recommendations. Irrigators are urged to participate in the focus group reviewing consumptive use recommendations, Sept.16, 2-4:40pm. Join this meeting at: https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/486078773
This focus group for “consumptive” users is one of five focus groups for Middle Colorado’s IWM plan, click and then scroll down to the “Join a Focus Group”: https://www.midcowatershed.org/iwmp-adcomm
For an overview of the Middle Colorado Integrated Water management Planning project, please see this video:  https://www.coagwater.org/stream-management
“I just see it as a way to get a connection of ideas from the different producers of what they’re doing, what’s working, what’s not working, and then making plans to implement changes,” said Thad Porter who manages the Porter Ranch, a working hay, cattle, goat, pig and elk ranch, south of New Castle. Porter last year had his Garfield Creek Ditch inventoried. In the 1990s the ditch had a seepage problem, which led to a slide, and, ultimately, expensive, time-consuming repairs. “Maybe with some of these ditch inventories they can see problems like that before they occur,” said Porter.
Landowners participating in the ditch inventory have or will have the technical work done for them by Rifle-based engineering firm Colorado River Engineering. The firm is assessing the condition of landowners’ headgates and ditches, and documenting points of failure, erosion, wetlands created from ditch seepage or leaks and invasive species. Colorado River Engineering then maps those points, plots the irrigated acreage, pulls information on water right decrees and shares the information with the water user.
“Once you know the condition of your ditch, you know how to protect your water rights,” said Wendy Ryan, project manager at Colorado River Engineering.
Water users also walk away with recommendations for the ditch system, which include information about grants and funding opportunities that could be used to implement those recommendations. Armed with data from the inventory and new ideas about funding, water users can build strong funding cases for infrastructure improvements. Ultimately, the conservation districts and many participating landowners will prioritize areas where multi-beneficial improvement projects are needed and feasible, then implement them. Focus group participants can weigh in on these plans.
This ditch inventory will tie in with the Middle Colorado Integrated Water Management Plan, a project to create a water management roadmap for the communities and uses served by the 75-mile stretch of the Colorado River that begins east of Glenwood Springs and runs through De Beque. As part of this planning effort, the three conservation districts along with the Middle Colorado Watershed Council and stakeholders have completed two assessments—one looking at environmental and recreational water uses on the Colorado and one looking at consumptive agricultural, municipal and industrial water uses.
“In order to understand the consumptive use portion of the Integrated Water Management Plan, we have to get a handle on how the water is used and who’s using it,” said Raymond Langstaff who raises hay at Grass Valley Ranch near Rifle. “Doing the ditch inventory helps us quantify the amount of water that’s being diverted for consumptive, beneficial use and helping us understand our rights.”
Similar ditch assessment work is being done in other parts of the state, including the Upper Gunnison River Basin and Yampa River Basin, as part of their stream management planning or integrated water management planning efforts. Those who have completed ditch assessments find they are a good step toward understanding the condition of agricultural infrastructure and developing projects to improve that infrastructure while also improving river health. Assessments that factor into stream management plans can be a good first step to larger partnerships and projects, and bigger funding pots to support them. To learn more about irrigation infrastructure assessments, stream management planning, and the plans that are integrating agricultural assessments, visit coloradosmp.org.
The Middle Colorado ditch assessment is the third of three projects showcased in a video series. The series is produced by the Colorado Ag Water Alliance (CAWA) and River Network with the goal of demonstrating how farmers, ranchers, ditch companies, conservation districts, environmental groups and other entities have come together to improve river health, irrigation efficiency and environmental and recreational use of Colorado’s limited water supplies.
To explore resources on funding for agricultural infrastructure improvements, contact Greg Peterson with the Colorado Agricultural Water Alliance at coagwater@gmail.com.
Grants to help fund stream management planning, such as those used by the Bookcliff, South Side, and Mount Sopris conservation districts are available through the Colorado Water Conservation Board. For more information on stream management planning in your area, visit coloradosmp.org or contact Alyssa Clarida with the Colorado Department of Agriculture State Conservation Board at alyssa.clarida@state.co.us
Submitted to The BARN by:
Marilyn Bay Drake marilynbaydrake@gmail.com

By Brian Allmer - The BARN

Brian Allmer & the BARN are members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB), the Colorado FFA Foundation, the Colorado 4H Foundation, the Colorado Farm Show Marketing Committee, 1867 Club Board Member, Denver Ag & Livestock Club Member, the Weld County Fair Board, the Briggsdale FFA Advisory Council, Briggsdale 4H Club Beef Leader & Founder / Coordinator of the Briggsdale Classic Open Jackpot Show.